(Feb. 18) Movement of the potato crop in storage is hit and miss depending where shippers are based and what size potatoes they have.

And while the start of a new year typically brings fewer shipments, shippers say f.o.b.s — and not demand — is their main concern as they market their remaining fresh-market crop, which on Feb. 1 was 50% of the overall 404 million cwt. produced during the fall.

“Our fresh movement is pretty good, and our shipments have been on par with last year,” said Duane Maatz, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn. “But the competition for cheap potatoes has driven the price down for all potatoes. Yes, potatoes are going on the market, but they’re going at a too-low price.”

Red River Valley shipments were averaging $6-6.50 for 100-pound sacks of size A, and about the same for 50-pound sacks of size B round reds on Feb. 16, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, 50-pound sacks of round red size A’s were $3-3.50 in Central Wisconsin, with 50-pound sacks of B’s bringing about twice that.

San Luis Valley, Colo., russets were $7-7.50 for 50-pound cartons of 40s and $5-6 for 90s. Northwestern Washington shippers were seeing the highest markets, with 50-pound cartons of round red size B’s at $14, and one-inch minimums at $30 for round reds and Yukons.

Winter crop potatoes from Florida were $30.30 for 50-pound cartons of ¾-5/8-inch minimum sizes and $12.30 for 50-pound sacks of size B’s.

“The demand pressure is really related to size and quality issues,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C.

Feb. 1 stocks were about 200.5 million cwt., compared to 199.3 million cwt. at the same time in 2003. That year’s production was about 4 million cwt. more than the current crop, but most of the Feb. 1 storage numbers major producing states were within a few percentage points of last year. Exceptions are Maine (with 1 million cwt. more this year), North Dakota, (with 3.4 million cwt. more) and Oregon (with 1 million cwt. more).

As of Feb. 1, shippers moved 203 million cwt. of potatoes since the start of the season, down 2% from last year and 4% from 2002.

Warmer temperatures in the West during the growing season led to an abundance of smaller-sized potatoes, and prices are reflecting that, said Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise.

Larger Idaho sizes are at a premium, with 50-pound cartons of 40-60s at $11 on Feb. 16, well over the $4.50 market for 50s at the same time a year ago. Conversely, this season’s 90s were at $5-5.50 and 100s were at $4.50 in mid-February, when they were at $7 last year.

Idaho shippers had 67 million cwt. on hand on Feb. 1, which at 54% is the same percentage left of the overall crop at the same time last year.